Stroszek (1977)

“We have a 10-80 out here, a truck on fire, we have a man on the lift. We are unable to find the switch to turn the lift off, can’t stop the dancing chickens. Send an electrician, we’re standing by.”

‘Stroszek’, directed by Werner Herzog in 1977, is a German drama focusing on the picaresque adventures of Bruno Stroszek, played by Bruno Schleinstein. Stroszek, a mild-mannered street performer is released from prison and meets a sex worker called Eva, played by Eva Mattes. She is being threatened by her ex-pimps, so the pair, with an elderly eccentric neighbour called Scheitz, travel to America to find a better life. Once there they settle in a cold, rural town in a trailer park. They are challenged by their inability to make money, and find their situation degenerating which leads to arguments, separation and, ultimately, crime. It’s an odd film: the character of Stroszek is warm and likeable, in part fed by the strangely and slightly naïve performance of Schleinstein, but this depth of character, and the eccentricity of those around him, collide with the chilly remoteness of the settings. Herzog moves the story from a decaying Berlin to a decaying small town America, with only a hint of the romance seen during a stop-over in New York. You are constantly lead to feel like it should be a comedy, but each development in the lives of the characters lead them to tragedy. There is humour in here, though. The film is full of non-sequiturs and twisted imagery, not least the attempts by Scheitz to measure animal magnetism, or the final shot of a dancing chicken on a turntable as Stroszek’s burning pick-up truck is extinguished. It’s the lack of any conventional characters, everyone is either outright strange or performed in a way that makes them seem strange, that alienates the viewer, and this alienation seems to be a central part of the film. It’s almost as if Herzog is suggesting that you can never escape from weirdness, even by travelling to another country.

Would I recommend it? Yes – it’s so strange it requires multiple viewings. It would be interesting to watch in a double bill with Herzog’s ‘Heart of Glass’, filmed a year before with the same sense of experimentation.

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